Nature conservation should be central to Canada’s recovery from COVID-19

Open letter to The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, PC, MP, Prime Minister of Canada.

Cover of the open letter to the PMO standing beside a large elk.

The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, PC, MP
Prime Minister of Canada
Office of the Prime Minister and Privy Council Parliament Buildings
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 1A6

July 10, 2020

Dear Prime Minister Trudeau:

As organizations with a strong commitment to defending nature in Canada, we want to acknowledge the efforts that the Government of Canada has made to protect Canada’s population from the COVID-19 pandemic, and the extraordinary efforts that are currently underway to manage the economic consequences of putting public safety and community health first. We were encouraged to hear your statement on World Environment Day that, “As we look toward restarting our economy, we need to continue investing in the protection of our natural surroundings and the fight against climate change— because if you do not have a plan for the environment, you cannot have a plan for the economy.”1 We also applaud the efforts by certain cabinet ministers in your government to advance a “green recovery.”

As we all work to emerge from this unprecedented disruption, our 235 organizations and millions of supporters want to emphasize that investments in nature and biodiversity on our lands and in our ocean can create jobs and be an essential part of an economic recovery and a sustainable future. Canada is in a particularly strong position to lead global efforts in this regard. We support your commitments to increase protection of lands, freshwater, and ocean, embrace nature-based climate solutions, and urge you to invest in achieving these outcomes.

The nature of the challenge

This country’s ecosystems – forests, wetlands, grasslands, ocean, lakes and rivers – and the biodiversity they support are essential to provide Canadians with clean air, clean water, healthy food, sustainable economic goods and services, and opportunities for work, play, mental health and physical wellbeing. These systems are fundamental to the rights and title of Indigenous peoples and have inherent value as an integral part of the world we inhabit.

A recent interim report commissioned by the Government of the United Kingdom on the economics of biodiversity (The Dasgupta Report )2 emphasizes that, “(o)ur economies, livelihoods and well-being all rely on Nature… without Nature, there would be no life.”3 As warned by the Intergovernmental Panel for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services last year, and by other expert reports, the relationships between biodiversity loss, environmental degradation and declining human and economic wellbeing (including health) are becoming increasingly clear.

“Our economies, livelihoods and well-being all rely on Nature… without Nature, there would be no life.” – The Dasgupta Report  Tweet This!

Despite the increasing recognition of nature’s importance, biodiversity (species and ecosystems) loss is accelerating everywhere on the planet. As the second largest country in the world, harbouring a tremendous variety of ecosystems, Canada has a major responsibility for the welfare of planetary diversity. However, of the 80,000 species in Canada, we only have sufficient information to assess the health of 30,000. And of these, 20% are imperiled to some degree. As pointed out by the Dasgupta Report, “(j)ust as diversity within a portfolio of financial assets reduces risk and uncertainty, diversity within a portfolio of natural assets – biodiversity – directly and indirectly increases Nature’s resilience to shocks, reducing risks to the services on which we rely and the species with which we share this planet.”

Importantly, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change notes that nature will be essential for safeguarding and sequestering enough carbon to avoid catastrophic climate change. According to the IPCC, nature could absorb up to 20% of GHG emissions from now to 2050.4 Yet, in Canada, our ecosystems are projected to sequester less carbon in 2030 than ever before, jeopardizing our ability to meet our Paris climate target and keep warming below 2 degrees. This drop in sequestration is due to human disruption of the environment – the same kinds of disruption that also cause habitat loss and put species at risk. It is a stark reminder that we cannot take the condition of the environment and the services it provides for granted.

Protecting and enhancing nature and biodiversity on our land, and in freshwater and the ocean will help mitigate and adapt to climate change, by storing and sequestering carbon in ecosystems and by improving resilience of communities and ecosystems to the unavoidable effects of climate change. Implementing nature-based climate solutions that help to address the biodiversity and climate crises at the same time will be of significant benefit, especially where such solutions are informed by efforts to promote reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, gender and racial equality, and meeting the needs of Canada’s most vulnerable communities.

To reverse the continued degradation of nature and biodiversity and the services they provide we need to transform the relationship we have with Canada’s lands, waters and species. And not just one place at a time, but at an ambitious and unprecedented scale.

Actions to achieve this include restoring degraded ecosystems, improving our management of forest and croplands, recognizing natural assets as vital infrastructure for our communities, proactively protecting land and ocean areas, modifying land use, and putting in place safeguards to maintain fully functioning ecosystems and minimize GHG emissions. These interventions will have a range of benefits. For example:

  • Reducing the rate of harvest and degradation of boreal peatlands from roads and other infrastructure will have significant, immediate GHG mitigation value
  • Large scale reforestation can provide immediate biodiversity gains and GHG sequestration value over the longer term
  • Protection and restoration of wetlands, will have measurable impacts on conserving and restoring biodiversity and ecosystem services
  • Restoring seismic cut lines and habitat degraded by industrial activity will be job creators and directly bene t economic activity
  • Developing nature-based municipal infrastructure will reduce costs and increase climate resilience and well-being in towns and cities, helping pollinators and numerous species at risk

Cumulatively, all these interventions will create jobs while being vital to restore nature, address biodiversity decline, improve food security, address climate change, and support the long-term health of our country and its people. In many cases these actions will assist Canada in meeting international commitments under the Sustainable Development Goals, the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Paris Agreement on climate change…

Nature conservation should be central to Canada’s recovery from Covid-19

“We stand ready to provide staff, research and resource support to assist you in this undertaking wherever possible.” – open letter, July 10, 2020

Cover of the open letter on conservation and COVID-19.
  1. Statement by the Prime Minister on World Environment Day
  2. The Dasgupta Review – Independent Review on the Economics of Biodiversity Interim Report, April 2020. UK Crown copyright 2020. Open Government Licence 3.0
  3. Ibid.
  4. https://archive.ipcc.ch/ipccreports/tar/vol4/index.php?idp=178